It’s a Saucy One!

Keywords: new pets, sources of information, sources of pets, communication skills, motivational interviewing, puppy contract, education

I guess a more accurate title for this post would have been, “It’s a Sourcey One” but having a word that doesn’t exist in the title of the blog didn’t sit well with me. Apologies for misleading you but potentially being misled is one of the topics in this blog.

‘Professor of the Forum’ has posted a reply

Recently I experienced the misfortune of being on a train that broke down in the middle of nowhere. It’s fair to say that I was a bit miffed, but the train staff were doing everything they could to resolve the situation. The man sat opposite me, took a different view and this prompted a discussion about the UK’s train services. My new train mate had been given a bag of goodies from his friends for his relatively new housemate, an axolotl. When he discovered that I knew what his pet was, his face lit up. He was surprised because I was the first random person he had spoken to who knew what an axolotl was. Apart from knowing what they are, I confessed that I did not know a great deal about them. My train mate told me that he had received a lot of information from a professor. I asked for the professor’s name and which university he/she is associated with, but my train mate didn’t know. He wanted some advice about the nutritional needs of his new housemate so posted a question on a forum and the ‘Professor of the Forum’ replied. Perhaps the ‘Professor of the Forum’ is highly knowledgeable about axolotl nutrition and perhaps he/she is a professor? But what if that’s not the case? It was very obvious to me that my train mate wanted to do his best for his axolotl but how much of the advice provided in such forums comes from reputable sources? I spoke to a friend, Sean McCormack (who is very knowledgeable on exotic pets and has written fantastic blogs providing advice for owners), for his experience and opinions towards exotic pet forums. Sean said that although some advice on forums can be sub-optimal, there are some forums that have active administrators who monitor posts and if sketchy advice is being provided, posts are removed or subsequent posts on the same thread are provided to help to clarify the advice if it is misleading. I hope that my train mate was benefitting from solid advice from the ‘Professor of the Forum’.

When I finally made it home, I wondered why my train mate hadn’t been advised on axolotl nutrition at the time of purchasing his new addition to the family. It reminded me of the thought-provoking presentations during the Animal Welfare Foundation’s (AWF) Discussion Forum in 2016 on non-traditional companion animals provided by Sheila Voas, Libby Anderson and Michael Stanford. These speakers discussed welfare, knowledge transfer and potentially introducing vendor licensing and owner pre-purchase education. Hopefully moving forward there will be fewer stories of pets being abandoned like the four-foot anaconda found on the streets of Edinburgh and a bosc monitor found in a supermarket toilet.

Where does the responsibility lie to ensure that pet owners are informed of the realities of ownership? With the owner? I’ve met owners who felt like they were well-informed until their first visit to the practice. Does the vendor have a responsibility?

The puppy (power!) contract

The puppy contract isn’t the agreement that I have with Mildred before dropping her off on her holiday with my parents when she gives me a look that says she is going to be an absolute delight for the duration of her stay. On a serious note, it is a contract that can be used to put prospective owners at ease by assisting them to source a puppy from a responsible breeder and as a result, helps to contribute to improving animal welfare. The contract was created by two charities, the AWF and the RSPCA. The breeder provides vital information about the puppy, the bitch and the dog and the questions asked in the contract serve as important prompts for prospective owners to consider when acquiring their new addition to the family. A completed contract provides an abundance of incredibly useful information such as diet, socialisation, preventative health treatments, surgical procedures and inherited conditions. Providing this information to new owners is helping them to make informed decisions and as we all know, knowledge is power! In this scenario knowledge ultimately improves animal welfare, resulting in puppy power! I am delighted to be working with the AWF to continue to promote the use of the puppy contract in addition to all of the other welfare projects the charity is supporting.

There have been many occasions when I have been in consulting rooms with new owners of an adorable young pup. During the first consultation, questions concerning the puppy’s diet and preventative health treatments are asked and sometimes it’s not long before the happy smiley faces become blank and embarrassed because people are unsure about the answers to these questions. It’s certainly not my intention to embarrass people and potentially make them feel uncomfortable. Walking the tightrope between trying to encourage positive choices for their pet without making people feel ashamed is also a skill doctors in human medicine are trying to balance for their patients. For some, shame can act as a trigger to change their behaviour but for others, it can lead to avoiding professional guidance. In a human study using data collected from anonymous surveys, half of the respondents (n=456) recalled one or more times when a doctor had left them feeling ashamed with 33% of those respondents indicated the shame-provoking interaction triggered positive behavioural changes (Harris and Ryan, 2009) so it works for some but not others, hence the tightrope balancing act. It’s been reported that feeling ashamed and embarrassed is a psychological barrier to raising concerns with their doctor (Robinson, 2001). I wonder if it’s the same for owners reporting concerns they have with their pets?

Tailoring health advice has been shown to increase compliance (Noar et al., 2007) but being able to discuss all of the aspects of preventative healthcare and build up a relationship with owners in a ten-minute consult to know how to tailor your advice to each owner can be very tricky. Motivational interviewing (MI) is relatively new on the veterinary scene but in human medicine it has been used as a patient-focused counselling style. This approach allows people to explore how they might reach their own goals therefore providing ownership for changing the situation themselves instead of a health professional advising x, y and z. Researchers at the University of Bristol have been conducting studies into the use of MI within a farming context, however, having attended one of Alison Bard’s workshops, MI can be used in a wide range of situations. It can be hard to change your own mindset as a vet from being a fixer of problems to encouraging the owner to provide their own ideas for solving a problem. If you can master this technique, the ideas provided by the owner are automatically tailored to the owners’ motivations and situation. There’s a video of Alison and Kristen Reyher on the use of MI with respect to improving dairy cattle welfare on the AWF YouTube channel from the Discussion Forum last year which provides an overview of MI and the research Alison has been carrying out.

Change on the horizon?

Earlier this month, Michael Gove requested evidence on the effects of potentially banning third party sales of puppies and kittens. Could this help to increase the number of pets being acquired from reputable sources? I believe so! Unfortunately, I think some new owners have been misled by puppy traders who have little or no concern for the health and welfare of the pet. Another concern I have is people purchasing pets on a whim when they haven’t considered the time and costs associated with pet ownership. Perhaps a ban on third party selling may lead to a reduction of impulse purchases. I am hopeful that a move in this direction will help the BVA’s #breedtobreathe campaign against extreme brachycephalic conformations which compromises the welfare of such pets and help to reduce inherited conditions in other breeds too. The consultation is open until 2nd May 2018 and there are five questions to ponder and provide evidence relating to this topic.

I hope that I have been forgiven for luring you in with a provocative blog title! Where do you recommend owners source online information from? I’m sure you provide a lot of information in your consultations and I know some practices offer advice on their own websites. I think it’s good to have information that people can refer to in their own time and revisit if required. If you have any suggestions on resources you recommend to owners, please add them in the comments section. Where do you recommend owners should be sourcing their pets from? I think that vets and nurses can help direct potential owners to find dog breeders who use the puppy contract and refer people to local rescue centres.

I’ve mentioned the AWF YouTube videos from previous Discussion Forums during this blog. I will be attending the next Discussion Forum on 12th June 2018. You can join the discussion on topics such as whether pet insurance is compromising quality of life, how to influence your clients’ behaviour to improve animal welfare and how to help clients make pre-purchase decisions. Attending the Discussion Forum also counts as a full day of CPD for vets and vet nurses. After a lively debate, there will be a reception at the House of Commons to continue conversations with people who share a common goal of improving the health and welfare of animals. I hope to see you there!

Stacey Blease – a vet thinking aloud


Sean McCormack’s exotic pet blog:

AWF 2016 Discussion Forum videos:

Puppy contract:

Harris C. R. & Darby R. S. (2009) Shame in Physician–Patient Interactions: Patient Perspectives. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, Volume 31, Issue 4 pp. 325-34

Robinson J. D. (2001) Closing medical encounters: two physician practices and their implications for the expression of patients’ unstated concerns. Social Science & Medicine, Volume 53, Issue 5 pp. 639-56.

Noar S. M., Benac C. N. and Harris M. S. (2007) Does Tailoring Matter? Meta-Analytic Review of Tailored Print Health Behavior Change Interventions. Psychological Bulletin, 133 pp. 673-93.

Motivational interviewing (dairy welfare) AWF 2017 Discussion Forum:

Call for evidence on third party puppy sales:

BVA’s breed to breathe campaign:

AWF 2018 Discussion Forum:

4 thoughts on “It’s a Saucy One!”

  1. Great article! As a vet, I think personalised pet reports are the way to go when it comes to educating pet owners. We create digital VetCheck reports for our clients and they love them.


    1. Hi Amanda, thank you for your comment. That’s wonderful to hear! I’m really pleased that your clients are engaging with the data 🙂


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